Thursday, December 11, 2008

Confederate Veteran on "How The Confederacy Armed its Soldiers"

Thanks to Kaelin for alerting me to this interesting article about Confederate industry from Confederate Veteran XXX, no. 1 (1922).

I was teaching my classes the other day about reading material culture as a primary source. For instance: a sun-faded, hand-sewn, jeans Confederate jacket can speak to raw material shortages and the labor of women behind the lines; an Atlanta arsenal cartridge box containing rounds from the Selma arsenal with powder from the Augusta works can tell us why Billy Sherman was so determined to stop the flow of supplies from the Confederate industrial heartland. Interesting, then, that we see in the pages of CV "How the Southern Confederacy developed a great industry in the manufacture of firearms and munitions while handicapped by the demands of active warfare is brought out in this article from the Springfield (Mass.) Republican, published while the World War was raging."

What's fascinating to me is that the CV would even publish such a thing. It smacks of the pride of the New South Men who sought capital and industry to restore the region to prominence while retaining the more conservative social structures of the Old South: racial, gender, and class hierarchy. I've always been of the opinion that if Gaines Foster is correct about the UCV being an town/urban professional phenomenon then we would see a significant amount of overlap in those professing the New South Creed and the shapers of Confederate memory.

" We began in April, 1861," wrote Gen. Josiah Gorgas, chief of ordnance of the Confederate army, in a monograph to President Jefferson Davis, "without arsenal or laboratory, or powder mill of any capacity, and with no foundry or rolling mill except in Richmond; and before the close of 1863, or within a little over two years we supplied them. During the harassments of the war, while holding our own in the field defiantly and successfully against a powerful enemy, crippled by a depreciated currency; throttled by a blockade that deprived us of nearly all the means of getting material or workmen; obliged to send every able-bodied man to the field; unable to use slave labor, with which we were abundantly supplied, except in the most unskilled departments of production; hampered by want of transportation of even the commonest supplies of food; with no stock on hand even of such articles as copper, leather, iron, which we must have to build up our establishments—against all these obstacles, in spite of all these deficiencies, we persevered at home as determinedly as our troops did in the field against a more tangible opposition. ... Steam was put in at the Charleston arsenal. The Mount Vernon institution was moved to Selma, nearer the district where the hardest cast iron in America was being turned into gun bores. Ancient field pieces of 1812 were replaced by new cannon from the Tredegar iron works in Richmond. ... Lead at the rate of nearly 80,000 pounds a month came in from the mines near Wytheville, Va., to be smelted in the new government plant at Petersburg. Battle fields were combed for gunstocks, bores, and bullets, with excellent results.

Notice how Gorgas downplays the potential contribution of slaves, pointing to their presumed inferiority and incapacity for skilled work, and without batting an eye can later point to Tredegar's contributions to the CS war effort while not acknowledging the slave labor that enabled that installation's success. But despite the racial assumptions which are largely inescapable from any source written in the 1920s, this remains a fairly sound introduction to Confederate industry. The conclusion is what I really enjoyed.

The Confederacy fell not so much because it had not been able to make arms, as because all the places where the arms were made fell before the Union armies.

Indeed, Harper's Ferry, Nashville, and eventually Atlanta would all suffer that same fate. But let us also keep in mind William Freehling's contention that the Confederacy had already lost the industrial war when it did not bring the manufacturing and transportation might of Baltimore, Louisville, and St. Louis into its ranks in 1861.


Lee White said...

Very interesting, yes it goes against the subgenre myth of the "ragged rebel" that was part of the larger Lost Cause. One thing though, Josiah Gorgas was a living and breathing contradiction to that aspect of the Lost Cause. Gorgas worked miracles with the CS Ordinance Department, and took great pride in it. He was also heavily involved with that aspect of the New South, teaching at Unv. of Ala, and of course Unv. of the South, where he made a big impact. So its interesting to see the dual contradicitions.

Anonymous said...

By some measurements, not all of which I think are completely valid, the "South" was actually among the five most industrialized nations in 1861, at its very creation. Trouble was, the South was contesting the second most (and by 1865 arguably *the* most) industrialized nation in the world. Its always a nice counterpoise to the image of the "agrarian-cotton South" of the classic backdrop.

Jubilo said...

Dear Sir ,
Your suprise of Gorga's lack of slave appreciation is naive . You seem to forget they were slaves. Not much recognition was given to the labor force of any color. Do you think the Romans thanked their slaves for their contributiion to the Empire ? I trust I have not offended your sensitivity.
cordially ,
David Corbett

Patrick Lewis said...

David, Any comparisons between 19th c. American slavery and that of the ancient world is fundamentally misguided. The salient difference between the two is the absence, in the ancient context, of slavery being confined to one race. Slaves of the ancient world were of all colors, and therefore there was no racial presumption of their unfitness for any work. Greek slaves, for example, were prized as private tutors for the Roman elite. Show me the 19th c. southern slave so valued! Indeed, one of the most common characters in popular Roman comedy was the wise slave who managed the household amid the chaos caused by the incompetent pater. Even the "inversion" theater of the 19th c. minstrel show would never have presumed to stage such a scene.

Certainly, there was harsh treatment and lack of appreciation for many ancient slaves, but for others there was also the chance for buying freedom and assimilating into society; something many slaves did to their great success and wealth.

Though a Roman would likely not have appreciated the work of his slaves to the level he should have done, he certainly would never have thought ALL slaves incapable of one thing or another as does Gorgas simply on the condition of their being slaves. It is this point that drives home Gorgas' immediate association of Slave = black = inferior that 30 years of shortsighted, functionalist pseudo-science before the war and 60 after it had embedded.

Just as Paul's biblical defenses of slavery were taken out of the apocalyptic context in which they were written to defend slavery, just as the "curse of Ham" was imposed on blacks by southern theologians, distorting -- or more properly ignoring -- the contextual nuance of ancient slavery to make southern slaveowners compare favorably to classical societies is dangerous historical ground.

Jubilo said...

Dear Sir,
While a slave of the ancients was not discriminated against because of color ,they were , for example in Sparta , subject to the Krypteia /Crytia . Other examples abound . May I suggest Plutarch's "Life of Lycurgus" ? Being a kid glove wearing young gentlemen you are no doubt already familiar with the Classics.
cordially ,
David Corbett

BorderRuffian said...

Yes, yes...that was an "equal opportunity" form of slavery!

Much more civilized! No racism there!

Yes, the equal opportunity to be hunted down by wild animals in the arena or be forced to fight to the death against other slaves for the entertainment of the Romans.

Yes, yes! Much more civilized!

Christopher Young said...

As my colleague Patrick stated, it is very dangerous ground to compare 19th century slavery in the United States to that of ancient societies. Slavery has taken different forms throughout the ages, each being unique in its own way.

As has been hinted to, the helots were slaves who could indeed own some private property, but were essentially tied to Spartan land and could be killed by young Spartan warriors during the agoge. Helots could be emancipated by purchasing their freedom or by completing an act of military service. (Military service: something African Americans were not able to do until the Civil War, and not as a way to become free themselves.)

Native American tribal wars could also provide the victor with captive slaves. Now, these "slaves" typically had the potential of assimilation into the society in which they were thrust.Therefore, they could gain an equal footing with their captives.

During the Antebellum Period, slaves were treated as inferiors in all regards but some were indeed fortunate enough to purchase their freedom or have family members purchase their freedom. Now, even with that said, freedmen were still seen as an inferior race. I believe we all can agree, that even abolitionists were really more interested in the basic human rights of slaves, but were not very interested in providing them the ability to hold public office or vote. It was definitely a "color thing" in the United States, both North and South, not so much in Sparta or Rome. To the Spartan and Roman, it was a matter of one nation's conquest over another. With all that said, we should not try to equate slavery in the ancient world to the American South, to the present day slave markets in the world, yes, I did say PRESENT DAY slavery. The institution and its general public acceptance, or lack thereof, was unique in each of the societies in which it was a part.

Patrick Lewis said...

David, Indeed I have looked forward to going home for the holidays for a couple of years now not only to see the family but to pick up something or the other from my Classics library that doesn't travel to Lexington.
Fine point re: the helots, certainly that is one (exceptional) instance where we can point to ethnicity as a factor in ancient slavery. But, then again, there's alot about Sparta that's exceptional.

Combine with that Chris' point about helot military service and I had an interesting thought. If I remember correctly, the Brasidoi were only recruited as a desperation measure during the Peloponnesian War; is there a (loose) comparison to the Confederate debate over black troops to be made? Cleburneoi?

Daryl Black said...

Perhaps a little reorienting is necessary here. The issue of slavery in ancient times v. 18th and 19th century slavery in the United States is frankly sterile and not worth the time spent in typing about it. Seems that engaging in it is to engage with P. H. Mell or James Henry Hammond. Enough.

The original point of the post was that it seems odd the CV published a piece on Confederate industry. From my perspective what seems odd is that there were not more of these kinds of articles. When I was writing my Sr. thesis at UT Chattanooga on the Atlanta Arsenal I searched the CV for articles about war industry and found very little. If memory serves -- and it might not given my distance from the project -- there were 2 published. One by Gorgas and another by Gabriel Rains. My sense at the time was that the editors of the CV sought to minimize the coverage of rebel industry and highlight the mythologized Christian knight Confederate soldier. Indeed the more time I spend thinking about Confederate memory the more I am confirmed in my original take on the publication practices of the CV.

Lets keep on track here folks.